Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Bingo: Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is about a boy, August (Auggie) Pullman, with a facial deformity (more than one, technically) who is entering fifth grade this year at a private school. Up until the book starts, Auggie has been home-schooled, and the switch proves to be a crucial development in his changing life.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover art by Tad Carpenter)

Conclusion: This book was powerful, but not in the way I expected. Honestly, I thought there would be some severe violence or possibly even death as a result of Auggie's switch to a private school. Although now that I think about it, the book was written for middle grade kids, so it probably wasn't allowed to be too violent without being bumped to the YA section. Anyway, I preferred the book without gratuitous violence, although I would have to question the reality of that outcome a little bit if the story were true. Palacio switches the point-of-view from person to person every few chapters. This is where the fact that Wonder is R.J. Palacio's first published book comes the light, because the voice for each of her characters is very similar to every other voice. That being said, you barely notice the voice because Palacio does a fantastic job switching perspective (what each character knows and thinks about, for example). This book means something special to me without bringing me to tears, and it was a fast, easy read.

This is my final choice for the "TBR Pile" box in the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge! I'm probably going to come up with a new plan for this, because I'm having so much fun with it! I guess next year I'll know to set my goals higher from the beginning. Make sure to check back to see what I'm reading next and cross off boxes on book bingo with me!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Bingo: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is the story of two teenagers: Hazel, who is suffering from a slowed but incurable lung cancer and a cynical view of the world around her, and Augustus, who has one real and one prosthetic leg due to a previous bout with cancer and chooses to hold on to life and romance for all they are worth. From the moment they meet, Augustus changes Hazel's perspective on her life and those around her. And as their relationship and Hazel's cancer progress, she and Augustus must decide how they will confront life's obstacles and what kind of legacies they want to leave behind.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Rodrigo Corral)

Conclusion: This book was phenomenal. Hazel and Augustus are sarcastic and funny, emotional and intense as only teenagers can be. They may be sick, but they live their lives to an admirable degree. At the same time, Green's book is honest and straightforward. This is not exactly a book where two beautiful people meet, fall in love, and run away together. This is a book about love, but it is also a book about sickness and how that sickness affects every part of life, in good ways as well as bad. I can't go into too much detail without giving things away, but I can say that I alternately laughed and cried throughout this book. I wish that I could meet Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac, because they seem like people with whom I would love to be friends, flaws and all. The last thing I'll say is read this book! It's amazing.

This book was my fourth "TBR Pile" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. I'm nearing the end of my bingo, so stay tuned for my modified plan for this challenge!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Club / Book Bingo: The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic is the first book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The book is about Rincewind, who is kind of a wizard, and Twoflower, a tourist who comes to Ankh-Morporhk to experience another side of the Discworld. Through a series of events caused primarily by Twoflower's Luggage and naïveté, the two men are basically thrown into several crazy adventures, one right after another.

You guys are probably wondering why I've been reading so many series books lately even though I completed that portion of my bingo scorecard: I have a ton of series on my To-Be-Read list! I'm focusing a lot this year on just finishing books I've already started and checking off some of those that have been sitting around my house...and so far, it's going fantastically!

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: This book is vaguely humorous at the beginning, although some of it is lost in explanation, I think. I've heard that Discworld is a really great series, but so far, I'm just confused. Everything is set within a context that I don't understand yet, and I find the world at once intriguing and off-putting. Hopefully this will get better for me. I keep having the feeling that it will be much more enjoyable once I understand the context.

Conclusion: This book was not at all what I expected from the description on the back! I never fully understood the context, for one thing. Pratchett never actually explains Discworld; you learn things only on a "need-to-know" basis. I thought it would be from Twoflower's point-of-view, but it was third-person omniscient with a primary focus on Rincewind. This made a big difference, because Twoflower, as the tourist in the duo, wouldn't have understood a lot of what was happening to and around the characters. Also, people kept describing it to me as humorous before I read it, but it made me muse more than laugh. It seemed...nonchalant, for lack of a better term. But this book was a great mix of realism and fantasy! Okay, it was pretty much all fantasy, but Pratchett did a fantastic job drawing me in and convincing me that Discworld is real! My main complaint is the author's transitions. I'm sure they were there somewhere, but it really felt like the characters just jumped from one thing to the next at breakneck speed. This was the same issue at the end. Pratchett ended an action scene with "The End" and then wrote a quick few pages just to let the reader know whether or not Rincewind died. If the books in this series were longer, I wouldn't dedicate the time to them, but since they're so short, I'll probably read the next one. I've been told Pratchett's writing style changes for the better as he goes on.

This book was my third "TBR Pile" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Join me as I read more books that have been sitting around sad and unread!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Bingo: The Darcys of Pemberley

The Darcys of Pemberley by Shannon Winslow is a "sequel" to Pride and Prejudice. I picked this up last year with the intention of reading it during the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge. The premise of the book is fairly simple: Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for almost a year, Mr. Collins has died, and Georgiana has come out as a young woman ready to marry.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Micah D. Hansen;
original cover artwork by Sharon M. Johnson)

First Impression: I'm a bit bored. So far, Mr. Collins died, Georgiana is conflicted in love, and Elizabeth and Darcy are keeping secrets from each other. That's about it. Elizabeth is keeping secrets for Georgiana (so nothing actually bad), and I'm pretty sure I know what Darcy's secret is (but the book is written in third person, limited to Elizabeth's point-of-view). Oh, and Elizabeth is questioning her decision to marry Darcy? I don't really see that happening with the original character. I like Winslow's writing style well enough, but the book is really slow-moving, and there's not really enough conflict or wit to keep me intrigued. I will finish it, because I hate not finishing books, and maybe Winslow will win me over by the end.

Conclusion: Okay...I definitely wasn't bored by the end of The Darcys of Pemberley. I was, however, disappointed with some changes Winslow made to two characters and the complete turnaround she made in the last quarter of the book. The characters in question? Colonel Fitzwilliam, who has become a more serious presence and lost all of the charm that lent him to be a notable character in the original, and George Wickham, who has become a horrible and violent image of desperation rather than the gold-digging and selfish playboy from Pride and Prejudice. It was the changes made to Wickham that allowed for the author's turn-of-events toward the end of the book, filling the story with action, violence, and a psychic premonition that made little sense with the earlier tone of the novel. And then, as if to bring her work back to where she began, Winslow promptly pairs off and marries all but one single person in the epilogue--even the more minor characters. I'm always hesitant to say that I didn't like a book, especially when I can appreciate the writing style and can tell from the prologue how much the author cares about her book and its inspiration (as is the case with The Darcys of Pemberley), but I did not like this book. Some of you may know from past reviews how hard it is for me to enjoy sequels to my beloved classics, so let me encourage you to take my review with a grain of salt. If you enjoy "sequels" to Pride and Prejudice, read this one! It seems like it might be better from a different perspective.

This is my second "TBR Pile" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. I hope you all can forgive such an unhappy review (I always try to be honest with you), and I also hope you are reading lots of lovely books right now! Don't forget to subscribe and check back on my blog for new, hopefully happier reviews in the near future!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Bingo: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth is the first in a trilogy. The series is set in a dystopian future of Chicago, where five factions co-exist: Abnegation (which values selflessness above all else), Amity (which values peace), Candor (which values honesty), Dauntless (which values courage), and Erudite (which values intelligence). Divergent is told from the point-of-view of Tris (or Beatrice) Prior, a sixteen-year-old girl from Abnegation who chooses to switch to Dauntless.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
MTI cover)

A movie version of this book came out in theatres on Friday, but I haven't seen it yet, so there won't be any comparisons to the movie in this review. I read a copy with the cover from the movie, but the original was pretty, too. I actually prefer the latter, but I almost always prefer original covers to movie covers. Each one seems to better indicate the true meaning of its book.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
original cover)

Conclusion: Roth's writing style is not my favorite. It reminded me of Meyer's Twilight, although the story isn't even vaguely similar to that vampire and werewolf fantasy creation. The explanation of this reminder lies in Roth's use of simple words and concise (rather than flowy or poetic) sentences. Also, the premise of the story seems a bit implausible in a realistic future. I'm not sure one or two generations is enough to breed almost a city's worth of people who are physically able to block out all other values for the dominance of one value in their lives, even if each person chooses that value for his or herself. Beyond the genetic side of it, I could see this happening. People would dedicate themselves to a world like this in order to avoid war, I think. My final complaint is that the story starts out really slow. Taking into account that Roth uses the beginning to introduce the reader to the world of Divergent, however, and that the slower pace gives the reader a chance to get comfortable before Beatrice chooses her faction, I can accept it.

Complaints aside, I enjoyed this book. After Tris chooses to be Dauntless, the pace picks up very quickly. I was forced to mourn in less than a moment the loss of a character's life or at least a character's purpose in life, and this motioned a definite shift in my reactions to events later in the book. I didn't really understand Tris's developing relationship with Four, but I still enjoyed it. This whole book is sort of like a roller coaster I just had to ride to the end before I could really think about it. And I think that's how it should be. After a lot of pondering, the book seems best viewed as an action and romance story rather than an intellectual one. I would recommend it if you want a quick, action-packed read, or if you prefer to read a book before seeing the movie (like me!). I'll probably read the next one in the series to see where it goes, although I'm wary from the responses I've heard at the bookstore lately. I guess I'll find out for myself!

Post-Movie Update: The movie, even more so than the book, is bent toward the action rather than the psychological side of things. I pretty much expected this, since it's harder for the actors to portray inner conflict. There were a few things cut-out or changed a bit, but most of it was done seamlessly, combining two events to save time or something of that sort. There were only three, fairly minor things that really bothered me about the Divergent movie: 1) Four is supposed to be somewhat impaired by his fears, but the movie portrays them as a much more minor part of his life; 2) Tris's fear landscape becomes a forceful, almost violent intimate situation rather than just an awkward situation where she's not ready for "follow-through," which gives the impression that her fear is Four rather than intimacy (which is her actual fear), and lots of people are watching her landscape instead of just the Dauntless leaders; and 3) toward the end of the book, Tris faces down an individual for Four, but they completely left it out of the movie. The third item doesn't play a huge role in the chain of events, but it serves as a great synopsis of Tris's and Four's relationship. Even though she's not as physically strong as Four is, Tris is supposed to be very strong of will, and she supports him when his fears are too strong. Maybe since they downplayed his fears in the movie, they didn't find this part necessary, but it was one of my favorite moments in the book. Anyway, since the book and movie were strong in the action department, it was easier for me to enjoy the movie without as many complaints as I might usually have. I went to see it with a couple of friends, and it's a good movie for that.

This book was my first "TBR Pile" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. I have so many books I've been meaning to read, there won't be a lack of choices to check-off this box! Let me know what you've been reading lately or what you think of this very popular series?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Bingo: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is the first book in a series called The Grisha. I believe this is also Bardugo's first published novel, but I might be wrong on that account. In the book, a wide, cross-country strip of land (the Shadow Fold) in Ravka is enveloped in darkness and plagued by dark demonic creatures that can fly and will eat any humans who try to cross their domain. Every once in a while, units from the First Army (the king's army) and the Grisha (a group of individuals who have magical affinities with nature--controlling the direction and force of the wind, for instance, or cutting someone's skin with a motion in the air) need to cross the Fold for supplies and special training. As a member of the First Army, Alina (an orphan and a cartographer's assistant) is required to make this journey with her group in order to complete her training. But after an unexpected light show while crossing the Fold, Alina has the Darkling (leader of the Grisha), Mal (her best friend), and everyone else questioning if she is meant to be much more than a cartographer--she might be their salvation.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: Bardugo certainly knows how to keep me reading! I sped through this book like crazy, completely fascinated even by the parts I didn't enjoy. Although there isn't anything really extraordinary about Alina personality-wise, I was able to connect with her character and feel sympathy, excitement, and horror as the occasions called for them. Mal and the Darkling are such great characters! Even when I "got to know them," they still surprised me and kept me intrigued. I loved that instead of sticking with the usual ideas of setting and magical powers, she looked to Russian folk tales for inspiration. (Little disclaimer: I have read some reviews that said the readers did not feel as though Bardugo had done enough research on Russian traditions to write this book. I know almost nothing about this topic, so until I get a chance to brush up on my own reading of Russian folk tales, I am judging the book from an outside view.) Bardugo really drew me in and made me feel part of Alina's world. I'll definitely be reading the second book in this series, Siege and Storm.

I picked this up because it has been nominated for the Truman Award (one of four MASL awards) for the 2014/15 school year. There are lots of awards that we tell people about at my work (of course--it's a bookstore), but the Mark Twain Award and the Truman Award are the most important ones at the store, since they garner the most attention from students, parents, and teachers. You might remember my review of The Eleventh Plague last year, which was one of the nominees in the last batch. One of my goals for this year is to read more of these award nominees, so I'll probably mention them in other reviews from time to time.

This book is my third "Series" selection for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. I'm making such fast progress, you guys; I think I'm gonna' have to up my game! Speaking of which, my son has been sick (hence the lack of recent reviews). Sorry I haven't been around as much, but I have been reading a lot, so hopefully my reviews will pick-up soon. I'd love to hear what you all think about this book and anything else you're reading! Leave me comments and links! I'll see you next time!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Bingo: The Hostage Prince

The Hostage Prince is the first book in The Seelie Wars series by Jane Yolen and her son, Adam Stemple. I love Yolen's books for younger children (especially the How Do Dinosaurs... series), and I'm always fascinated by different authors' takes on the two fairy kingdoms. The story is focused on two main characters: the first, Snail, is a midwife's apprentice and the second, Aspen, is a Seelie prince held hostage in the Unseelie palace. For unrelated reasons, the two find themselves on the run together from the Unseelie kingdom. And thus begins our story!

(picture taken from Goodreads;
illustration by Antonio Javier Caparo;
design by Irene Vandervoort)

I found this interesting but not quite what I expected. I love that Snail and Aspen grow and mature so much on their unexpected trip together, and it was nice that Yolen and Stemple didn't bring romance into the picture. I have nothing against teen romance, but it's overdone and I think it's nice to see characters just be friends once in a while. There were some really creatively inspired ideas in The Hostage Prince, such as the shifting forest between the Seelie and Unseelie lands, as well as the chapters with the pregnant troll! This was an easy, fairly short read, written at the middle grade level. My biggest issue with this book is that it ends without accomplishing anything significant. I guess you could say that the main characters achieve their initial goal, but then another adventure begins and the book just...ends. It's a cliffhanger, and it's got me. I admit: I will read the second book to find out what happens. Traditionally, however, I prefer to read each book in a series both as part of that series and as an individual piece.

I read this as my second "Series" book for the Book Bingo Challenge! I hope you enjoyed this review! Don't forget to subscribe and check back for more great challenge picks!